Dublin Laptop Orchestra


NCH Kevin Barry Room, Dublin

.What’s in a name? The first mention was of the Dublin Laptop Ensemble. And then it became the Dublin Laptop Orchestra. The words ensemble and orchestra suggest a certain difference of scale. And orchestra not only creates the expectation of a conductor, but also of a group fielding more than one player to a part.

The Dublin Laptop Orchestra as presented by the Irish Composers’ Collective to a jam-packed NCH Kevin Barry Room on Thursday ran to six players. The group was founded earlier this year, by Alex Dowling and American composer Dan Trueman, who was one of the founders of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk), and who’s spending a year in Dublin.

The new orchestra’s website explains that “We make music with lots of laptops, hands, golf controllers, a wireless router, and anyone that plays . . . anything. Our aim is to bring some theatricality and ‘physical presence’ into electronic music performance and we are totally portable (speakers and all) so can play pretty much anywhere.” The players don’t just sit at their laptops (each of which feeds its own loudspeaker). They sometimes stand, or squat, or pull and wave around the cords attached to controllers for computer golf games, which made them look a bit like theremin players practising without a theremin.

The Kevin Barry Room, with players and listeners all on the flat, was not the best venue for an audience to savour the visuals. Those near the front probably had the best of it, or those of us in the back row who stood up to see what was going on, and probably presented a sight like giant meerkats on the lookout.

Three of Thursday’s six pieces involved other instruments, Dennis Wyers’s Bang-cruncH, a “pocket-sized version” of an expanding and contracting universe, had a conducting saxophonist. Alex Dowling’s Foxhunters put an Irish reel on violin in the foreground. And Aonar i Scáth by Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Dan Trueman placed violin in the context of a slowly morphing drone background.

Bryan Dunphy’s 01 used the Apple laptops’ own microphones and data from the computers’ built-in motion sensors in a piece that seemed to be following the philosophy of setting up its processes and letting them run.

Donal Mac Erlaine’s Atmastruggled too much with the control aspect of the golf controllers, with a result that sounded uninterestingly random. The slow, almost contemplative sounds of Francis Heery’s Spool put the controllers to much more effective use.